Who does not love sardines?
A comfort to most Filipinos, sardines locally known as lawlaw, tamban, tunsoy, tuloy in various parts of the country, is one of the major sources of protein nourishment of Filipinos.
Seafood is an important source of protein in the Filipino diet, accounting for 42.2% of total animal protein intake and 18.3% of total protein intake. According to the 2017 study by the Social Weather Stations (SWS), 71% of typical Filipino families eat seafood, especially sardines, at least five times per month. The same survey, however, also indicated people’s observation that the fish they eat are getting smaller and more expensive.
However, despite the archipelagic nature of the Philippines and the diversity of fish and seafoods available in the country, a high proportion of Filipinos have protein inadequacy. These are among the highlights of the study, The State of Fish in Nutrition Systems (FINS) in the Philippines published by Oceana and MRAG Asia Pacific, in cooperation with the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Institute (DOST-FNRI).
In line with the goal of achieving food and nutritional security and improve livelihoods of coastal communities, the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) issued a Memorandum dated February 15, 2023 to all regional directors to mainstream the National Sardines Management Plan (NSMP) in all Fisheries Management Areas (FMAs). The regional directors serve as chairpersons of the 12 FMA Management Boards under the FMA system established in 2019. The Bureau also issued an August 7, 2023 Memorandum mandating the use of all National Management Plans for various species, including sardines, as a framework for the adoption and implementation of a harvest strategy and management measures in all FMAs.
The NSMP for 2020–2025 guides the coordinated management of sardines in Fishery Management Areas through the identification of reference points, harvest control rules, and appropriate measures in line with the Amended Fisheries Code (Republic Act 10654). It was approved on May 15, 2020.
“We laud this important step of DA-BFAR that underscores the urgency to mainstream a national plan of action for sardines in all FMAs. This is a victory for all including those whose livelihoods depend on sardines, especially the artisanal fishers who have long appealed to address its dwindling catch and diminishing size of this species. This will also contribute towards achieving food and nutritional security of all Filipinos,” said Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Oceana’s Vice President.
Under the NSMP, the BFAR is mandated to implement the coordinated management of sardines, from production to post-harvest mechanisms, and tackle the biophysical environment, socio-economic, and governance aspects.
“In the major sardine fishing grounds of the country, the available information shows that stocks are now depleted. Clearly, there is a need to find viable solutions, such as reduction of fishing effort, declaration of closed seasons, among others to allow this fishery to recover. Exactly how to do these specific actions needs to be determined within the context of a framework, which is what the NSMP provides. There is no time for delay as there is an urgent need to improve the status of fish stocks. We can no longer allow their continuing decline, because this makes the goal of stock recovery more and more difficult,” Dr. Wilfredo Campos of the University of the Philippines Visayas stated.
According to Oceana, the urgent management and protection of sardines cannot be overemphasized. Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed that sardines, Tamban, and Tunsoy combined have a share of 7.6% of the total volume of fisheries production of 4.3 million metric tons in 2022. From 2012 to 2022, the rate of decline in production over this 10-year period is 3 %. The combined volume of production of Tamban and Tunsoy dropped to 331,000 metric tons in 2022 from 342,000 metric tons in 2012.
Martha Cadano, a woman fisherfolk and member of the Victoria Municipal Entrepreneurs Multipurpose Cooperative in Northern Samar, said that the implementation of the NSMP will provide an adequate supply of sardines for a better future of our artisanal fisherfolk because sardines are found in municipal waters. “The immediate problems that must be addressed also include the absence of post-harvest facilities resulting in high post-harvest losses, the lack of fishing boats and gear and post-harvest handling. The database for catch and losses is also lacking that should help inform the appropriate intervention,” she added.
As of today, only the active Management Body (MB) of sardine-rich FMA 7 (Ticao-Burias Pass, San Bernardino Strait, Sorsogon Bay, Ragay Gulf, Samar Sea, Carigara Bay, Maqueda Bay, and Irong-Irong Bay), FMA 11 (Asid Gulf, Visayan Sea, Guimaras Strait, Bais Bay, Tañon Strait Protected Seascape, and Visayan Sea), and FMA 12 (Balayan Bay, Calatagan Bay, Batangas Bay, Tayabas Bay, Tablas Strait, Mogpog Pass, Tayabas Bay, Sibuyan Sea, and Southern Sibuyan Bay) passed resolutions and integrated the NSMP into their overall FMA management plans. The NSMP has to be integrated into nine of the 12 FMAs nationwide.
Ramos pointed out that the FMA Management Boards play a key role in achieving the goals of the NSMP and adopt concrete solutions for management issues. “Among the problems encountered is the unsustainable fishing practices, both by commercial fishing companies and small-scale fishers and these should be addressed by science-based fisheries management plan such as the NSMP,” she added.
 DOST-FNRI data from the 2018-19 Expanded National Nutrition Survey